Are you exercising and eating well, but still finding it hard to lose weight? It could be down to your hormones. While calories do matter, hormones matter more; controlling every function and system in our bodies. Intrigued? We sat down with fitness guru and PT Matt Roberts to find out more…
What hormones are at play when it comes to weight?
While every individual is different, making it tricky to pinpoint exact hormones, there are a few key players when it comes to weight loss. If you’re struggling to lose those final few pounds or have recently put on a few, consider the following...
CORTISOL: The body’s stress hormone, cortisol can lead to many negative health problems such as high blood pressure and increased belly fat, which can ultimately lead to a heart attack or stroke. Ninety percent of the time, the main hormone out of whack is cortisol – it also depletes the happy chemicals like serotonin, affects your sleep and has even been linked to depression, food addiction and sugar cravings.
INSULIN: Insulin is a fat-storage hormone; insulin resistance means your cells can’t absorb the extra blood glucose your body generates from the food you eat. When that happens, your liver converts the glucose into fat. Insulin resistance usually causes weight gain and sugar addiction.
LEPTIN: Leptin is nature’s appetite suppressant. When you’ve had enough to eat, leptin signals your brain to stop eating. But when you’re overweight, your fat cells produce excess leptin. When your brain gets bombarded with leptin, levels keep rising and you don’t feel full, meaning you’ll quickly gain weight.
GHRELIN: Ghrelin has been dubbed the ‘hunger hormone’ – when levels are increased, it can lead you to eat more and cause cravings for sweet and processed foods.
What are the signs our hormones are out of whack?
There’s wide range of physical signs that might be an indication a person could be experiencing some sort of hormonal disruption. For example, elevated cortisol levels can lead to weight gain around the tummy and elevated blood pressure, while insulin resistance may be represented by signs such as an increased need to go to the loo and excessive thirst. Similarly, disrupted menstrual cycles could be a sign that oestrogen production has been affected.
How do hormones become imbalanced in the first place?
The main culprits of haywire hormones include nutritional deficiencies, excess toxins, an inability to deal with stress, poor sleep and age. In regard to the latter, this affects women most – women’s hormone levels change throughout their reproductive years and through perimenopause, menopause and beyond.
How can we balance hormones?
First and foremost, your hormones don’t like chronic stress, so anything you can do to manage stress levels is worth exploring – try yoga and meditation. Also eat to nourish your body by consuming the right amounts of lean protein and whole food sources of fat and carbohydrates – you need all three for hormone production. Make an effort to stay active but don’t push yourself to your limits at every workout, and get between seven to eight hours sleep every night. Consistency with these basic life habits will almost always help people get their hormones back on track again.
So should we avoid high intensity exercise?
If you’re looking to lose weight, or struggling to do so, research suggests you could be better off giving high-intensity exercise a miss, especially if your cortisol levels are already high. If this is the case, try experimenting with lower intensity forms of exercise such as yoga or activities that keep the heart rate between 120-140bpm for between 30-45 minutes.
What about the thyroid – does this play a part too?
To an extent, yes. However, thyroid health can be a complex issue and if you feel like there's a problem, it’s best to consult your doctor to help investigate further. Exercising regularly is a good way to maintain thyroid health, so keep the focus on finding a form of exercise that allows you to be consistent, rather than following the latest fad workouts. Eating a diet that doesn’t overly restrict calories and is rich in fish and iodine (found in seaweed) can also be good for thyroid function. It might also be a good idea to reduce any dietary sources of processed soy if you feel your thyroid is out of whack.
The bottom line?
If you’re on a mission to lose fat, the main hormones you should consider are insulin and cortisol. One of the best and easiest ways to control insulin sensitivity is to adopt a paleo-style diet, which is high in protein and monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, and omega-3s – think lean cuts of meat, fresh vegetables, fat-rich nuts, coconut oil and avocados. In my opinion, adopting this style of diet is the best way to lose body fat.
Visit MattRoberts.co.uk for more information; following a recent collaboration with The Wellesley Knightsbridge, guests staying at the hotel will now receive a discount on training sessions with Matt Roberts in either his Chelsea or Mayfair branch.